By Erica Jones
In recent years vaccines have become a hotly-debated topic, leading to division in schools over whether students should be allowed to be exempt from getting vaccinated.
This year at the University of Southern Maine, 385 of the school’s 7,554 students opted out of sending vaccination records, according to Lisa Belanger, Director of Health Services at USM.
That is approximately five percent of students.
Currently, students do not need to provide any specific argument in order to waive out of sending records of their immunizations, or lack of. The reasons students opt out include religious principles, philosophical oppositions, as well as simply being unable to acquire their records due to significant inconveniences, such as an inability to access their records or no longer possessing them.
“That convenience becomes inconvenient if an outbreak does happen,” explained Cori Cormier, a University Health and Counseling Services staff member, referencing USM’s policy that all students without vaccination records are required to leave campus for the duration of the outbreak.
The concern of an outbreak is not met with the same reaction everywhere, with nation wide anti-vaccination movements expounding the dangers of these life-saving medicines based on refuted, false scientific studies, mainly a redacted paper by former British surgeon Andy Wakefield which insinuated a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
In his paper, Wakefield claimed that vaccines caused autism due to a mercury-containing compound called thimerosal which was an ingredient in earlier vaccines.
Despite there being no scientific evidence in favor of thimerosal’s relation to autism, the compound was eliminated from most vaccines in 1999 as a precaution.
The state of Maine’s vaccination exemption rate is one of the highest in the country at 1.7 percent, more than double the national average, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Low vaccination rates contribute to the spread of diseases such as measles, pertussis, and chickenpox. The dangers of these diseases, all made less prevalent by vaccines, have some Maine citizens concerned about their safety and that of their families.
“I think schools should require vaccinations. Anybody who doesn’t get vaccinated poses a risk for the resurgence of deadly diseases,” said Michael J., a Physics major and junior at USM.
According to the Bangor Daily News, Maine is one of the 18 states that allow parents to waive their children from immunizations for philosophical reasons.
Also reported in the Portland Press Herald were Maine’s school-by-school vaccination rates, released by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The troubling data revealed that 20 percent of students at South Portland’s Small Elementary School were opted out of vaccines by their parents, giving the school one of the highest opt-out rates in Maine.
The realization that the country is not as immunized as it could be has led to action from pro-vaccination movements, including groups within the state of Maine.
“It simply is not safe to have a large population of unvaccinated people,” said an anonymous USM student. “Maine is supposed to be a place where you dream of retiring – not catching measles.”